Kids, Teens and the Power of “Not Yet”



Are you aware of the power of “Not Yet”?

I am afraid I wasn’t. Not enough, at least.

A few days ago I watched a talk called “The Power of Yet” by Carol Dweck. It was a revelation to me. As parents, as educators, we need to be aware of the power of “Not Yet” and use it.

What Dweck emphasizes is: “If you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade ‘Not Yet’ you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.

When you hear or read it like this, you may think: Sure, when you fail you think you can and will improve for next time. Not everybody reacts like that. Actually, very few people react by thinking of the future journey of improvement. Most stay stuck on their failure and this develops a fear of failing, which…increases the chances of failing again.

So, when you tell your kids that they didn’t do well, and that they need to work to improve, the way you think and the words you use are critical.

Visualize these two scenarios:

First one: Your kid comes home with a bad grade. You are not happy. To your kid there is no difference between “Mom or Dad is unhappy about my grade” and “Mom or Dad is unhappy about me.” You are worried about your child’s future. You tell her or him that he/she didn’t do a good job and that if she/he works a lot, or more, or better, he/she will improve. How does your child feel? She/he feels like a failure, because Mom or Dad (or both) is worried about his/her competence and intelligence.

Second one: Your kid comes home with a bad grade. You are not happy. However, you believe that he or she is on her/his way to succeeding. You use the words, “You are not there yet.” You don’t feel angry, you are not worried, because you can visualize the future progression – and so does your kid. His/her thoughts will be: Mom or Dad thinks I have the ability and the power to progress and succeed. Then you can say: “You need to work a lot, or more, or better.” The interpretation that your kid makes is not the same as in the first scenario: the signal you give is that succeeding is difficult and requires pain and effort.

As a parent, as an educator, believing in the child is key. What you think matters. The words you use matter.

We are too often trapped in traditional notions of good grades and high IQ, and miss out what’s really required to be an efficacious and successful human being.

We must ask ourselves, “What qualities matter most for a child trying to negotiate his way to a successful and autonomous adulthood? I recommend that you read this very interesting article by Paul Tough in the New York Times called: “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?”. Tough teaches us that people whose paths to success are easy – those who, for instance, effortlessly earn 800s on their SAT’s – are the ones who can’t make it when faced with a difficult situation.

Tough reports that David Levin, the co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools and the superintendent of the KIPP schools in New York City, discovered that “the students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class.”

These character strengths appear to be a recipe for a successful and happy life.

“Not Yet” is a major ingredient in this recipe – a way of encouraging and gratifying effort, and enhancing optimism. Studies showed that the words “yet” or “not yet” give kids greater confidence, fuels greater persistence, and can change students’ mindsets.

We must not praise intelligence or talent, but praise the process that kids engage in: their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, and their improvement. Success and happiness are directly linked to resilience.

Angela Lee Duckworth, an American psychologist whose studies are clarifying the role that intellectual strengths and personality traits play in educational achievement, wrote: “Learning is hard. True, learning is fun, exhilarating and gratifying — but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging. . . . To help chronically low-performing but intelligent students, educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.”

Duckworth noticed that people who accomplished great things often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take. She decided she needed to name this quality, and she chose the word “grit.”

This is valid not only for academics, it applies to every area of life: work, love, passions, sports, relationships, etc.

You can take the Grit test here

We must understand how important the power of “Not Yet” is. It is our duty to teach our kids that effort and confronting difficulties are directly related to the development of their brains, and therefore improve brain functioning. We must teach them that effort is associated with progression and enhancement.

Carol Dweck mentions a study where researchers taught to one group of students that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time they can get smarter.

The amazing result? The students who were taught this lesson showed a sharp rebound in their grades while the ones who were not taught this growth mindset continued to show declining grades.

I believe that the power of “Not Yet” is an easy and pretty straightforward tool for us. We can use it as parents, as educators and even as friends. USE IT as much as you can and you will make a major difference in others lives, you can make them understand that, yes, they can unhook the moon 😉


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2 Comments on “Kids, Teens and the Power of “Not Yet””

  1. Iris Litt Says:

    Hi Valerie,

    Thought you’d be interested to know that both Dweck and Duckworth are working at The Center For Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences this year.

    Hope all is well.

    Best, Iris

    Iris F. Litt, M.D. The Marron and Mary Elizabeth Kendrick Professor of Pediatrics (Emerita)



  2. Rodney Kellum Says:

    Very interesting point of view. I know that I am careful with my 6 year old to not crush his confidence, or give him a big head either.

    Thanks for the breakdown and sharing.


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